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Jefferson Sarchione: ‘I know who my heroes are’
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Marine captain shares story of 2nd Battalion 9th Marines of Echo Company
By Carol McIntire
The quiet echo of guests joining Lucy Pridemore in an acapella rendition of the National Anthem at Westview Cemetery May 30 set the mood for Retired Marine Captain Jefferson Sarchione to share a very personal story that drove home the true meaning of Memorial Day – to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the U.S. military.
The 2008 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. who received a commission in the Marine Corps as an Infantry Officer, shared a personal story he knows well – the story of young marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 9th Marines and the sacrifices they made and courage they showed in southern Afghanistan 12 years ago.
“It’s a story I rarely tell,” Sarchione told those gathered in a large semi-circle around the Veterans Memorial and Unknown Soldier Memorial, with a firing squad and large group of local veterans standing at rest in front of him. “And with my beautiful wife and son of 16-months in the audience today, I question someday if I’ll ever be able to speak it again. When it’s all said and done, it’s not the bonds, the bullets, the gunfights that keep a warrior up at night, it’s the guilt of wondering, why not me? Or the thoughts of, is there something I could have done differently to save their lives?”
He related the story of deploying in the summer of 2010 to southern Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines Echo Company as a Rifle Platoon Commander.
“I was young, eager and ready to lead Marines in combat, but as I look back today at old photos, I realize I was no more than just a kid.”
Stopping momentarily to compose himself and often wiping tears from his eyes, Sarchione described the platoon’s single mission: to locate, close with and destroy the enemy in Taliban strongholds in the region.
The Marine’s voice cracked as he spoke of the high number of casualties sustained by Echo Company and the mornings of Aug. 31, Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 when they lost Sgt. Joseph Bovia, Lance Corporal John Bishop and Lance Corporal Joshua Twigg.
Sarchione had to take a moment to compose himself and often wiped tears from his eyes as he described the men.
“Joseph was a Marine’s Marine. He was only 24. Everyone loved and respected him.”
“Bishop, 25, had multiple deployments before this one. He was a proficient machine gunner, had a baby on the way back home in Indiana and was a great leader of Marines.”
“Twigg died by exposing himself to enemy fire while laying down a wall of machine gun fire in order to evacuate other wounded marines on the battlefield.”
At this point, Sarchione noted at the beginning of the operation Echo Company 2/9 had decided to switch from the desert tan camo helmet covers to the traditional green, jungle green, for two reasons; One, they allowed the Marines to have more concealment as they moved through the thick vegetation and, Two, they set Echo Company 2/9 apart from all other units.
At the end of his speech, he shared why it was important.
Three months later, in December 2010, Echo Company was assigned to assist the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in the Sangin River Valley where casualties had been high.
“The area quickly became that Taliban’s bid for success. In the early morning of Dec. 27, 2010, Echo 2/9 entered the battle space with our jungle green helmet covers and started a deadly campaign of clearing the enemy from the area. Again, the cost of separating the enemy from their last remaining stronghold was high, but I assure you, we were very effective,” Sarchione told the crowd.
“We took many casualties and on the mornings of Jan. 1, Jan. 2 and Jan. 7. We lost Lance Corporal Maung Htaik, Corporal Jacob Tate and Lance Corporal Ryan Geise,” Sarchione said as his voice cracked and his emotions overtook him.
After composing himself, Sarchione continued, “Lance Corporal Htaik was the kid who surprised everybody out of high school, when he joined the Marine Corps, but all he wanted to do was give back to a nation that gave his family everything.”
“Corporal Tate, originally from Canton, lived in Columbus and died at age 21. He was an excellent leader of Marines and weeks before his passing, welcomed the birth of his first baby.
“Lance Corporal Geise. We called him Goose. Spoke to him the night before he was killed, and he expressed that he was excited to get home to his wife. But he was just as excited to get home and share stories with his dad, who was a veteran of Vietnam and a Marine as well. He knew how much he was going to make his father proud.”
Sarchione struggled through a quivering voice and tears to speak the words, “Well Goose, you made us all proud.”
During the deadly campaign in Sangin, Marines intercepted a communication from Taliban commanders that read: “These new Marines, these green hats are from Marcia where they killed many Taliban and were brought here to kill the Taliban and they are everywhere. They patrol more than any other unit and make it difficult for us to move around and conduct attacks.”
“In that short time, we literally broke the will of the enemy to fight,” Sarchione stated. “So, if you are asking, why now tell this story, we are a nation in need of heroes. Our society is becoming broken by the days and the moral fabric of our nation is under direct assault. We are confusing our youth with what it means to be brave and heroic. Parts of our society describe that bravery is serving self and preserving one’s own life to live. For me that is simply not true. The root of all heroic actions usually begins with sacrifice and courage in the name of God, Family and Country. And today, I know who my heroes are. I look to the Marines of Echo Company 2nd Battalion 9th Marines, the green hats. And, like every day, on this Memorial Day, I honor the six green hats who made the ultimate sacrifice: Sgt. Bovia, Lance Corporal Bishop, Lance Corporal Twigg, Lance Corporal Htaik, Corporal Tate and Lance Corporal Geise. So let this Memorial Day, and countless stories like the one just told you, remind you of what it means to be a hero. And may these stories serve as a reminder every year, so we do not lose this great nation where we live.”
Bob King, an Air Force veteran stationed at Pleiku Air Force Base in Vietnam, and Jack Rutledge, an Army veteran from the Korean War era, placed a wreath at the Veterans Memorial as Tammy Newbold and Tammy Jones placed a wreath at the unknown soldier memorial.
Rodger Barto, American Legion commander, served as officer of the day for the firing squad which presented a salute to the fallen and two members of the Carrollton High School band played Taps. The high school band presented two selections and Rev. Tim Cashen presented the invocation and benediction.
Jim Newbold, VFW Post 3301 commander, who served as master of ceremonies, closed the ceremony with a reading on the price of freedom.
“Today will be the most expensive holiday on the calendar,” he said. “Every hot dog, every burger, every spin around the lake, or drink with friends and family…is a debt…purchased by others. This is not about all who’ve served. That day comes in the fall. This one is in honor of those who paid in life and blood; whose moms never saw them again, whose dads wept in private, whose wives raised kids alone, and whose kids only remembered them from pictures. This isn’t simply a day off. This is a day to remember that others paid for every free breath you ever get to take.”
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